Two Mormons who have gained national attention for pushing their church to ordain women to the priesthood and to accept openly gay members this week were notified that they face excommunication for apostasy.
The two are Kate Kelly, a human rights lawyer who founded the Ordain Women movement, and John P. Dehlin, creator of a popular online forum for Mormons and a doctoral candidate in psychology who has published his research into the problems faced by gay church members.
It is the first time since 1993, when the church ejected a handful of intellectuals known as the September Six, that it has moved so forcefully to quash such prominent critical voices.
The move is a sudden change of course for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which had been working to project an image of greater diversity and openness.
The church issued a statement late Wednesday saying, “Local leaders have the responsibility to clarify false teachings and prevent other members from being misled. Decisions are made by local leaders and not directed or coordinated by church headquarters.”
Kelly and Dehlin were notified of the action against them on two consecutive days, leading them to suspect that the move was coordinated by officials in church headquarters in Salt Lake City.
Dehlin was sent a letter on June 7 by the president of his stake, or church region, who he said he has never met, calling on him to either resign from the church or face a hearing before a disciplinary council. The letter cited an Internet posting in which Dehlin wrote that he no longer believes many fundamental “truth claims” the church makes.
Dehlin is the founder of “Mormon Stories,” a website with podcast interviews on hot-button issues for Mormons questioning their faith. “Mormon Stories has always been about administering to those who have doubt and have hard questions,” Dehlin said in an interview Wednesday.
The Ordain Women movement, organized only last year, has clearly agitated church leaders by mobilizing protesters. Kelly received an email on June 8 from her local bishop in Virginia informing her that she faces “disfellowshipment or excommunication, on the grounds of apostasy,” and calling her to a disciplinary council hearing on June 22.
The letter said, “you are not required to change your thinking or the questions you may have in your own mind,” but that she must resolve her questions privately with her bishop.
“I’m just really, really, really heartbroken,” Kelly said.